I almost got to take a shower today.
However, whenever I got close to the bathroom, I’d get an urgent call from a concierge member, Marine buddy, Morgan Stanley retiree, fraternity brother from 50 years ago, or one of my kids asking me which stocks to buy at the bottom.
It’s been that kind of market.
I refer them to the research piece I sent out last week, “Ten Long Term LEAPs to Buy at the Bottom” for a quick and dirty way to get into the best names in a hurry (click here for the link).
I have been doing the same, and as a result, I have one of the largest trading portfolios in recent memory. When the Volatility Index is above $50, it is almost impossible to lose money as long as you remember to buy the 1,000 dips and sell the 1,000 point rallies.
In the run-up to every options expiration, which is the third Friday of every month, there is a possibility that any short options positions you have may get assigned or called away.
If that happens, there is only one thing to do: fall down on your knees and thank your lucky stars. You have just made the maximum possible profit for your position instantly.
Most of you have short option positions, although you may not realize it. For when you buy an in-the-money vertical option spread, it contains two elements: a long option and a short option.
The short options can get “assigned,” or “called away” at any time, as it is owned by a third party, the one you initially sold the put option to when you initiated the position. Whenever you have sold short an option, you run an assignment risk.
You have to be careful here because the inexperienced can blow their newfound windfall if they take the wrong action, so here’s how to handle it correctly.
Let’s say you get an email from your broker saying that your call options have been assigned away. I’ll use the example of the Microsoft (MSFT) December 2019 $134-$137 in-the-money vertical BULL CALL spread.
For what the broker had done in effect is allow you to get out of your call spread position at the maximum profit point 8 days before the December 20 expiration date. In other words, what you bought for $4.50 last week is now with $5.00!
All have to do is call your broker and instruct them to exercise your long position in your (MSFT) December 134 calls to close out your short position in the (MSFT) December $137 calls.
This is a perfectly hedged position, with both options having the same expiration date, the same amount of contracts in the same stock, so there is no risk. The name, number of shares, and number of contracts are all identical, so you have no exposure at all.
Calls are a right to buy shares at a fixed price before a fixed date, and one options contract is exercisable into 100 shares.
To say it another way, you bought the (MSFT) at $134 and sold it at $137, paid $2.60 for the right to do so, so your profit is 40 cents, or ($0.40 X 100 shares X 38 contracts) = $1,520. Not bad for an 18-day limited risk play.
Sounds like a good trade to me.
Weird stuff like this happens in the run-up to options expirations like we have coming.
A call owner may need to buy a long (MSFT) position after the close, and exercising his long December $134 call is the only way to execute it.
Adequate shares may not be available in the market, or maybe a limit order didn’t get done by the market close.
There are thousands of algorithms out there which may arrive at some twisted logic that the puts need to be exercised.
Many require a rebalancing of hedges at the close every day which can be achieved through option exercises.
And yes, options even get exercised by accident. There are still a few humans left in this market to blow it by writing shoddy algorithms.
And here’s another possible outcome in this process.
Your broker will call you to notify you of an option called away, and then give you the wrong advice on what to do about it. They’ll tell you to take delivery of your long stock and then most additional margin to cover the risk.
Either that, or you can just sell your shares on the following Monday and take on a ton of risk over the weekend. This generates a ton of commission for the brokers but impoverishes you.
There may not even be and evil motive behind the bad advice. Brokers are not investing a lot in training staff these days. It doesn’t pay. In fact, I think I’m the last one they really did train.
Avarice could have been an explanation here but I think stupidity and poor training and low wages are much more likely.
Brokers have so many legal ways to steal money that they don’t need to resort to the illegal kind.
This exercise process is now fully automated at most brokers but it never hurts to follow up with a phone call if you get an exercise notice. Mistakes do happen.
Some may also send you a link to a video of what to do about all this.
If any of you are the slightest bit worried or confused by all of this, come out of your position RIGHT NOW at a small profit! You should never be worried or confused about any position tying up YOUR money.
Professionals do these things all day long and exercises become second nature, just another cost of doing business.
If you do this long enough, eventually you get hit. I bet you don’t.